The best male and female table tennis players in the country gathered at Ota City General Gymnasium on Monday for a special one-day event, giving fans the chance to see many of the country’s elite talents compete for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Participants included top players from the professional T. League and both the national men’s and women’s teams. The national team selected squads with world famous players such as Tomokazu Harimoto and Kasumi Ishikawa.
Jun Mizutani, the bronze medalist of the 2016 Men’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, withdrew from the event at the last minute after feeling unwell.
No spectators were allowed in the arena for the event hosted by the T. League. But it offered the fans, who watched remotely on TV and the Internet, some entertaining matches that they wouldn’t normally be able to watch.
In the first part of the event, the selected T. League team competed against a combined team of the men’s and women’s national teams. The players of T. League eliminated the Japanese representatives 5-4.
Later, the men’s and women’s national select teams went head-to-head, with the men’s team handed handicaps such as point shortages and not being able to serve. The women’s team beat the male players 2-1 in the unorthodox game.
Despite being able to train more than athletes in contact sports during lockdown, players welcomed the opportunity to finally take on real-life opponents.
It was the first game we played in half a year, Ishikawa, a two-time Olympic medalist, said after the event. I was happy to play in real matches. Hopefully you can start playing more matches from this point on and this was a great first step before that.
The 27-year-old veteran said she had played many exhibition games, but was nervous to compete with many people observing her performances.
Nonetheless, Ishikawa cherished the opportunity, in part because she could compete against male players like Harimoto, the 17-year-old phenomenon currently ranked No. 4 worldwide.
I don’t think I played male players in front of an audience, but it was so much fun, Ishikawa said. We played against each other a lot when he was in elementary school. But this may have been the first time since then. My service didn’t really work against him anymore.
Harimoto, who won silver at the ITFF Mens World Cup in Chengdu, China last year, took to the court in hopes of boosting his growth as a player, despite the accidental nature of events.
To be honest, I had some concerns when I was just practicing, Harimoto said. But I could try things that I’ve been working on, and my worries are gone today.
The organizers have set strict guidelines to limit the risk of infections prior to the event. Yoshihito Miyazaki, an assistant chief executive of the T. League, said anyone who would appear in court, including players, officials and staffers, should undergo an antigen test.
All tested negative for the virus.
Reporters and photographers were confined to a press room in the stands and all interviews were conducted online.
While the coronavirus is still spreading, we don’t need to fear it too much and have gained confidence through tonight’s event, Miyazaki said. (Japanese table tennis) had to resume the games, and we thought it should be us, the T. League.
The league opens its third season on November 17.
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